Do you start your child at four and a half years or do you wait until they’re going on six? It’s a conversation taking place in pre-school and kindergarten car parks all over the country, as mums and dads decide whether to send their child to school on time, earlier than usual or hold them back.
Age-wise they may be able to start school in the next enrolment, but are they actually psychologically and socially ready to start their 13 plus years of education? Will they be bored with another 12 months spent between home and preschool or will they struggle if sent to school too early? Are they emotionally mature enough? Will they be able to keep up academically?
For parents in this situation, the decision when to send them to school can be one of the most difficult decisions to make.
The idea that because of their birth date some children are "ready for school" and others are not has become a controversial topic amongst not only parents but also educators. Just as children begin to walk or talk at different ages, so too do their psychological and social abilities necessary for school develop at varying ages.
Charlestown East Preschool is a shining example of best practice in early childcare education and intentional teaching methods providing children with the best educational start for kindergarten. The teachers at Charlestown East Preschool are all experts in early education and believe that the question "is the school ready for the child?" needs to be asked more often. The reality is that a match between the child's development and the school's resources and adaptability just may not exist.
Owners of Charlestown East Preschool, Frances and Nick Chomyn, as well as the early childhood educators based at the centre, have spent many hours talking about school readiness with parents.
“When to start your child at school is a major decision for many parents,” says Nick.
“This is, of course, is understandable as every parent wants their children to thrive and not struggle to keep on top of things. What I tell parents is that there’s no need to rush – the reality is that their child is going to be at school for a long time, so let’s make sure they are enjoyable years.”
Nick says parents can’t be expected to make an entirely independent decision on whether their child is ready to start the school journey.
“The best person to assess school readiness is the child’s preschool teacher,” he says. Pre-school centres such as ours conduct a school readiness program all year around and our teachers have been specifically trained in early childhood development."
Nick also stresses that school readiness is not necessarily about being able to read or write or even count.
“These skills will be taught at school so they are not a priority for starting school,” he says.
"School readiness is about emotional and social maturity – it’s about being ready to thrive at school instead of just coping with it. These are important aspects of development that we cannot fast-track."
When it comes to deciding whether or not their child is ready for school, parents should first consider their child's unique abilities and gather accurate information about their development, especially communication skills such as language development and the ability to listen; social skills and the ability to get along with other children and also adults.
Questions parents should be asking about their child include:
Can the child make an independent decision?
Can they follow multiple instructions at the same time?
Can they move on to new activities easily?
Do they show interest and interact well with other children?
Can they express their feelings and needs?
Do they remain engaged when being read a story?
Can they use the toilet on their own?
Of course, every child is different, and there are advantages and disadvantages to purposefully delaying a child's entrance into kindergarten.
Delaying school entry in order to obtain some later academic or sporting advantage is not necessarily a winning strategy. On the other hand, being among the youngest in a class may cause the child some academic problems.
What is clear from this, is that parents should not make this decision alone, and should always aim to include a qualified teacher or carer who also knows their child to assist them in the decision.